Monthly Archives: January 2013

IMPRESSED? OH, YES WE ARE!

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Jazz UK in 2002. Sadly, the efforts of Gilles Peterson and Tony Higgins did not, as many of us had hoped, result in the reissue of the vast British jazz archive on Universal records. However, it did perhaps prompt companies such as Dutton Vocalion and BGO to come to arrangements with Universal that have allowed many wonderful albums to find their way to CD. For that, our thanks go to Gilles and Tony.

‘This beautiful music deserves to be heard not for extortionate prices but for the £9 or £10 of buying a CD and not just by the core Jazz fans but it’s people like me and younger that are very open-minded to hearing lots of different styles of Jazz.  It’s as fresh hearing it now as it must been hearing it then.’   Nathan Graves, Head of Jazz, Universal Records.

Rarely does the release of a compilation CD merit headlines but that’s definitely the case with Impressed, a unique plundering of the vaults courtesy of DJ Gilles Peterson and Universal Records.  For the first time in years, Jazz fans can hear some of the best British music of the sixties – music long missing in action.  With tunes from Joe Harriott, Ronnie Ross, Mike Garrick and the much lamented Rendell-Carr Quintet, the album already looks like a winner.  There’s a lot riding on it.  If it’s successful, fans can expect to see some of these rarest of rare records back in the racks.

We asked Gilles Peterson how it started.  “Really, it started just as doing tapes and things for myself and my friends.  I’d started picking up some of these British Jazz records from the sixties and made a tape together and I thought I should send it to Nathan Graves at Universal because they own a lot of this stuff. He’s a really lovely guy and he liked it. He just said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’

As for the choice of the eight tracks to include, it simply came down to the first that got cleared and that they found the masters for.  I asked Gilles how they found these legendary tapes and he tells me that Tony Higgins, his manager (and author of Impressed’s excellent sleeve notes), did the detective work.  Gilles tells me, “It took ages.  I put this together three years ago and it’s taken that long.  Until he got on the case who understood all about the Lansdowne series and got to speak to the musicians it was on hold.” 

Only one track, the Joe Harriott/Amancio D’Silva Quartet’s lovely Jaipur, needed to be mastered off vinyl.  For the rest, including Rendell-Carr Quintet’s version of pianist Mike Garrick’s era-defining Dusk Fire, were there on near pristine tape in Hanover.  Given his involvement with Jazz-Dance, I wondered if he’d been tempted to remix the tracks.  Gilles just shrugs off the question, “Remixing?  No.  I’d rather try and get the bands back together.” 

If any Jazz UK readers are surprised by Gilles’ involvement in the project, then their view of him is somewhat one-dimensional.  Nathan Graves is full of praise for Gilles and as he suggests,  “It was having someone like Gilles with his media profile that made me think we’ve definitely got to do this.”  To Gilles, ‘It’s all Jazz.’   His personal journey into the music was through Funk bands like Light of the World and Incognito and from there via Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea to Coltrane and Miles and onto the European and British scenes.  “I’ve always had two areas to think about when I’m putting music together.  I think about it as a club DJ, so things like the Tubby Hayes’ Down in the Village or Ronnie Ross’ Cleopatra’s have been Classics in that arena for some time.  But then as a radio DJ I’m able to go a lot deeper and play things like Dusk Fire or those beautiful Mike Garrick melodies.  Those songs can sit in perfectly on the radio.  I can play Hip Hop next to Black Marigolds.”  As Gilles says, it’s all about creating a context for the music.

I asked Tony Higgins what they’d found as a result of his ‘detective work’.  “It was a case of deduction really.  I contacted the chief librarian in Hanover and lo’ and behold all five of the Rendell-Carr tapes were there.  Sadly we couldn’t find all of the (Denis Preston) Lansdowne recordings.  For instance we don’t know where the Joe Harriott ‘Hum Dono’ tapes are.”  I ask what else is missing and Tony tells me that both guitarist Amancio D’Silva’s albums – Integration and Reflection have yet to surface but to Tony’s relief both Neil Ardley’s New Jazz Orchestra records – Western Union and Déjeuner Sur L’herbe – and his album featuring Don Rendell and Ian Carr, Greek Variations have turned up.   

The problem arises that the different labels changed hands several times and tapes moved around over the years.  But Tony isn’t giving up.  “I’m hoping that someone somewhere has these tapes.  I intend to make a hit list of thirty to forty key albums of that time and pin them down in the hope they can be released.” 

When I spoke to him about Impressed, Ian Carr told me a story about the Rendell-Carr Quintet.  “That was a great group.  It was very, very poetic music and it brought a lot of people into Jazz.  I met this guy who wrote for Avant Magazine and he came and spoke to me at a concert.  He said, ‘I’ve always meant to tell you that a friend and I thought we should get into Jazz and we went to see the Rendell-Carr Quintet and the spotlight shone on you and you began to play your solo and that was the very moment I fell in love with Jazz.”   I know the story’s true – I was that soldier.

I asked Mike Garrick, who features on the CD with his own trio and on the two Rendell-Carr Quintet tracks about the lovely tune he wrote for Rendell, Dusk Fire.  That’s the one they’re playing in my memory at that concert all those years ago.  “Dusk Fire  does seem to be a special piece, in that Don took it to his soul.  He loved it and I think it brought out the finest qualities of Don as a Jazz musician.  So, every performance we did of Dusk Fire was special and I didn’t feel that to the same extent with any other piece, though Black Marigolds (also featured) took off as well.  But the emotional level that Don attained on that track was at its peak.  I had just to jot down the tune – it took me all of about ten minutes to write – which enabled us to bring this feeling out of the group and not just Don.  It was Don who wanted a big intense introduction to the piece.  He would want it absolutely boiling and then he’d come in on top of it.  Absolutely beautiful.”  I can’t add a thing to that.

Nathan Graves tells me that the advance response from critics and retail outlets has been positive enough to warrant a follow-up CD.  He also wants to reissue the original albums but this well depend on sales of Impressed.  “This isn’t by any means a done deal yet but I’d like to do that with Tony Higgins who’s put a proposal to me.  We’ll work towards this year on doing batches of the originals.”  There’s also talk of some reunion concerts from Gilles and Tony and from my conversation with Ian Carr, it certainly sounds like he’s up for it.  The exciting thing is that there seems to be an audience out there – and not just of ‘forty-fifty somethings’ either.

With original Rendell-Carr and Mike Garrick records selling for hundreds of pounds – often but not only in Japan – these are rare artefacts that fans are collecting like stamps or Art.  But what is it apart from scarcity – most went out on print runs of no more than 500 copies – that makes them special.  Everyone I talked to from Gilles and Tony to Nathan and to musicians like Ian Carr and Mike Garrick all agree this was a special time.   There’s a particular passion that comes across from Gilles, Tony and Nathan.  When I suggest that they represent a missing piece of history, Tony Higgins puts it like this, “Definitely.  Not only is it great music and playing, they are historical and social artefacts.  They represent a bridge between one school of music and another.  It’s about time these guys’ work was acknowledged.’  Nathan Graves talks of ‘the incredible amount of music locked up in the archives’ that shouldn’t be.  This could be the first time that Jazz fans in Britain, Europe and Japan might actually hold the key to open those vaults and let the light of history shine again.  Buy Impressed now.  Let’s get this stuff out people!

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The Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet

The Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet still holds a special place in the affections of British Jazz fans.  For thirty years, the five records they cut for producer Denis Preston between 1964-69 have been locked in a vault in Hanover.  As BGO reissue all five on a leasing agreement with Universal Records, Jazz UK caught up with ‘The Five’ to hear their story.

Back in 1962, Don Rendell had a quintet with Graham Bond on alto.  “Graham phoned up out of the blue and told me he was going to play the organ and sing,” Don told me.  “I wasn’t thinking about having an organ and singing in the quintet, so we just parted.  I had no notice about it.”  That band had not long released an album, Roarin’, on the Jazzland label.  Tony Archer, the group’s bassist, suggested Don check out Ian Carr, newly arrived from Newcastle.  “He was playing at the Flamingo Club with some band,”  Don explains.  “I thought he’s good, so I said to Tony, ‘Yeah, we’ll try and get Ian to come in.’  It just changed over night from Graham Bond to Ian Carr.”

Ian was playing with Harold McNair, the Jamaican reedsman.  He takes up the story,  “I’d come from the MC5 (Mike Carr Five) – a world class band – and Harold didn’t really have any kind of policy and wasn’t very well organised.”  Ian jumped at the chance to join what was then the new Don Rendell Quintet.  Meanwhile, John Mealing had replaced original pianist John Burch, Trevor Tomkins was now the drummer and shortly after Dave Green took Tony Archer’s place.

This band features on the Spotlite Records’ album The Don Rendell 4 & 5 plus the Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet (SPJC-CD566).  The band recorded the sides for American Hank Russell, Howard Keel’s musical director, in ‘64.  Russell and Don were Jehovah’s Witnesses and Don describes it as ‘a friendship thing.”  Russell hoped to secure a release in the States but nothing came of it.  Backed with three tracks from the group’s appearance at the Antibes Jazz Festival in 1968, it reveals an already fine mature group but the contrast with the Antibes tracks is enormous.  When Shades of Blue(BGOCD615) came out in ’64, Colin Purbrook was on piano and the band had moved on artistically.  Where the Russell record draws heavily on the Great American Songbook, Shades of Blue focuses on original compositions.

Dave Green feels the early quintet was ‘very based on the Miles’ thing’.  “We were trying to emulate these great players,” he laughs.  “I was trying to do a Paul Chambers and Trevor was trying to do a Jimmy Cobb.  John was influenced by Wynton Kelly but as time went on the band really matured a lot.”  For Dave, Michael Garrick’s arrival later in ’64 signalled the change.  “We started utilising a lot of Indian type compositions Michael used to write and the whole band became really strong after Michael joined.”  Ian feels there was something uniquely poetic about the group’s music.  “I think that was one of the reasons people liked it so much.  It wasn’t hard-driving like a lot of American Jazz of the time.  We had different kind of focuses than the Americans.  We were into texture and different rhythms.  And Michael Garrick was steeped in Indian Music as well.  We found we could do so many things that we never thought of before.”

Michael Garrick echoed this when we spoke last year.  It was about one’s own roots.  As he said then, “Whether we like it or not we’re English and I wasn’t born in Chicago or New Orleans but in Enfield,” he said.  The recent release of The Rendell/Carr Quintet Live in London (Harkit HRKCD8045) shows how fast they were developing.   Their compositions leapt from the group’s shared identity.  There was no policy decision to feature original material, as Don explained, “It was quite brave in a way because we had so many originals with Michael, Ian and me writing.  Suddenly we’d gone a whole concert without using a standard.  It just happened.”

However, as Trevor Tomkins explains, it soon became a question of principle. “We did a BBC Jazz Club broadcast and wanted to do all original stuff.  There was quite a heated discussion because they said, ‘Can’t you throw in a few American Standards?’  We insisted and I think we were the first band they had do a set of totally original music.  At gigs we’d get requests for original material.”  With Warren Mitchell and Sam Wannamaker amongst their fans, ‘the Five’ attracted ‘a nice class of audience’.  There’s a wonderful group atmosphere that comes across on “Live” (BGOCD614) and the Harkit recording – it’s Warren Mitchell’s ‘ribald comments’ you can hear on “Live”.  This is a band doing it, as Don says, because they love it.

Dave Green recalls, “We always used to travel and room together.  Somehow we got the gear in Trevor’s Vauxhall and we all piled in.  It was so exciting.  I was absolutely thrilled to be with that band.”  And as Trevor Tomkins points out, it was clearly a group, not two great horn players plus rhythm.  He told me recently, “That was really my schooling.  All of us contributed in lots of different ways.  It was a group effort.  If Ian came in with a new composition it wasn’t, ‘this is how it’s got to be done.’  It would be ideas and experimenting with things and almost letting it grow naturally.”

Perhaps Dusk Fire is their most popular record and backed with Shades of Blue it makes of a hell of a package.  But Phase III/“Live” reveals a developing band.  As Don points out Phase III saw changes in Ian’s writing.  “Ones like Crazy Jane and Les Neiges D’Antan were approaching Free Music, no time with no harmonic structure, (while) I’d always written time and harmonic structure.”  With Garrick stretching the group with his Indian-influenced pieces and Don’s ‘Coltrane out of Lester Young’ approach, the Quintet could go in any of a number of directions and frequently did.

And they worked regularly.  “We played a lot of Poetry & Jazz, mainly through Michael Garrick,” Don remembers.  “The poets were normally the same ones – Vernon Scannell, John Smith, Danny Abse and Jeremy Robson.  There were tours.  The northern tour took in Liverpool, Stoke, Leicester, Coventry and Ian coming from Newcastle fixed us to play there a few times.”  But apart from Antibes and Montreux, they never played in Europe and despite Ian’s best efforts a US trip never materialised.  However, a Poetry & Jazz concert for the BBC with Vernon Scannell (Epithets of War) got them on TV and they also did a BBC2 documentary.  Mike Dibbs, who did Ian’s Miles’ programme for Channel Four, was the producer.  Dave Green tells me, “He filmed us at the Phoenix on Cavendish Square and as I was getting married on March 1st ’68, he tied the wedding into the filming.  Mike had previously written this piece called Wedding Hymn so it ended up with the band playing it in the church filmed by the BBC.  It was extraordinary.”

In 1967, Ian’s wife Margaret had died shortly after giving birth to their daughter by Caesarean.  That’s her on the cover of Shades.  That night he rang Trevor who came over immediately, so Ian wouldn’t be alone.  “Some people think that’s why I put so much of myself into music and, in a way, music was my salvation,” Ian explains.  Perhaps that shows itself most in his contributions to Phase III and “Live” but by ’69, somehow the steam was going out.

Ghanaian percussionist Guy Warren had begun playing gigs with the group at Ian’s behest but, as Dave points out, this ‘didn’t meet with everybody’s approval’.  For Dave, ‘Things started to unravel for no particular reason I can remember.  Ian started getting quite frustrated.  I think he wanted it to go in a slightly different direction and Michael had his own ideas.”  Ian left at a gig in Camberley in ’69.  “Maybe I was just jaded,” he says now.  “I just went home and didn’t communicate with anybody for a few days.  I just felt the band was over.”

Nucleus would follow and Jazz-Rock certainly wouldn’t have sat easily with either Don or Michael.  For Michael, the whole Pop/Rock thing had little to do with the Jazz he loved.  For Don, it was a question of different priorities.  “Ian wanted his own band which was a different kind of music from what we’d been doing.  I didn’t have the Jazz Music commercial ambition that Ian had.  As a believing Christian I just didn’t want to do a month’s tour of the States or that kind of thing.  I’m a family man, I guess.”  With hindsight, Change Is (BGOCD613) tries to contain too many potentialities at one time.  The very thing that had made the group great – its breadth, its bravery, its quiet bravado – were its inner contradictions that eventually destroyed it.

Though they’re all glad to see the records reissued, as Trevor suggests, “It would be nice to get paid for some of it because we didn’t get much first time.  But it’s nice they’re coming out again from a musical standpoint because I really loved working with that band.”

Looking at the scene then and now, both Don and Trevor express concern at the  ‘chops for chops’ sake’ attitude they see in some young players, though both feel that most young players have now moved on from that.  As Dave Green suggests, “You can’t really compare one particular period with another.  Things that weren’t happening then are happening now and vice versa.”  Hopefully there is a whole new audience for these records and as he says, “if they can hear how good Don is that would really make me happy.”

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in Jazz UK in the July/August 2004 issue.

 

 

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Blue Notes and Brothers

Early one August morning in 1964, seven people crossed the border by train passing from South Africa into Mozambique.  It was an unusual group of people – five black guys, one white and one white woman.  Any ‘mixing of the races’ was, of course, immediately suspicious in apartheid South Africa.  The six men – Louis Moholo-Moholo, Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Dyani and Nikele Moyake – made up The Blue Notes. South Africa’s only multi-racial jazz group was ostensibly travelling via Mozambique to Paris and then to the South of France to play at the jazz festival in Juan Les Pins.  The woman was Maxine, pianist Chris McGregor’s partner and the group’s manager, publicist and often main source of financial support.  It was true that they were heading for France but there was no question that they were coming back. Continue reading

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Interview with Coleridge Goode

To begin with, Coleridge, could you tell me how you came to the UK?

Well, I came to the UK in 1934 to study at Glasgow University.  In Jamaica, you couldn’t earn a living as a musician and my father was an important figure in Jamaica.  Electricity had just come into Jamaica, so I went to Glasgow to study electrical engineering.  My father was a musician and he was in correspondence with the Head of Music at the University, Dr. Whittaker. He had a famous choir.  I went first of all to get the entry qualifications but I also played violin and obtained my LRSM [Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music]. When I got into the university, I got in to the orchestra and lead the second violins.  My professor in Electrical Engineering was my deputy.  There were one or two Africans at the University but very few black people. One thing I remember very well was when I first came – before I even got into university – I was invited to climb Ben Lomond.  There was snow and ice which I had never seen before.  Of course, I had never felt cold like that.

When did you come to London?

In all, I came down in late 1940/41.

And when and how did jazz come interest your life?

I’d never heard jazz before because my father was strictly a classical musician and he wouldn’t have jazz in the house.  So, I was hearing jazz for the first time on the radio when I came here. I was hearing some interesting things and thought it would be nice to play that.  One of the things I noticed that there were very few only two or three violinists who played jazz and I found that if you’re a classically trained violinist you play things in a certain way, which is quite different from the way you play jazz and there weren’t any really great classical violinists I could hear playing jazz.  The only person I could hear was Stéphane [Grappelli] and so I thought it must be difficult. You have to change everything you’ve learnt.  So, I thought I have always loved the bass line in music and I’ve always been and still am a great lover of the music of Bach.  It occurred to me when I heard Count Basie’s bass player the way he played different lines in his playing which were contrary to what most of the bass players at the time were playing – not the tonic dominant thing but moving lines.  That appealed to me. I thought I could put in Bach movements into the jazz and I had decided that I wanted to play jazz and I had to be successful and mustn’t fail.  So, I practised and practised. I used to practice eight hours a day. There was a bass player Bob Smith from Newcastle. He was the only one I saw amongst all the bass players up there playing jazz who seemed to me to play correctly.  I could see him fingering correctly. So, I got in touch with him and asked if he could advise me as to what books are best.  So, he told me and I got the books and started to learn the bass.

So you came to London in 1941.

Yes, I came to London in 1941.  I was here during blitz.  What happened was how I started I decided to come down and survey the scene and try and fix up something or other and I went into a place where Dick Katz was on piano playing solo and I asked him if he knew of anybody who was looking for a bass player and he put me onto someone and I was offered a job.  Then a certain musician who I had seen in Glasgow he came into the club and sat at the bar and was obviously interested in what we were doing and at the end he came over and said to me, ‘I’m forming a band and would you like to play with me?’ and that was a permanent invitation. So, I went back to Glasgow. Then I played with Johnny Claes, who was Belgian, he had the best small band in town at a restaurant in London at the Embassy Club. All the best jazz musicians went through this band.  We played for dancing in the restaurant but it was jazz with a vocalist and so on.  Lauderic Caton [from Trinidad] was on guitar. It was very exciting and at night after playing at the club – we used to call them day clubs in those days  – we went on and played at a night club.

I believe you also played with Stéphane Grappelli.

I played BBC broadcasts with Stéphane Grappelli.  He was working in a club and the pianist was George Shearing. He was in that band.  We did broadcasts together. Some were at Decca and some at Abbey Road.

So, did you have another job at that time or….

No, I have always worked as a professional musician.  The next progression was the Caribbean Club Trio which was Lauderic and Dick [Katz] and myself.  I was recording some film music with Stéphane and his group and in the group was Ray Ellington on drums.  This was long before The Goon Show and during the recording I said to Ray – he became quite famous as a jazz singer, he had a programme and so on – so I said to Ray, ‘We’ve got a trio that’s at the Caribbean Club.  I feel it would be a good idea if you got together with us and we formed a group.’  Our little trio was well-known at the time.  So, he agreed and I said, ‘I must consult my other two fellows’. And, of course, they agreed and so we got together and upstairs from the club was an American chap who was a dance teacher and who was a friend of Ray and that was where we used to rehearse and this dance teacher suggested that the group should be called the Ray Ellington Quartet because he had the bigger name as a draw.

Where was the club?

In Denman Street.  The Ray Ellington Quartet was very successful.  We were able to make a living.

How long did that group last?

I left in 1951.  We had a job in Milan. Myself and the guitarist Laurie Denis – we agreed to meet in Milan – I always drove everywhere.  Myself and Laurie, we had his car and set off to drive to Milan.  On the way, the car went over a huge bump and crushed the brake line.  So, when I went to put my foot on the brake going down a hill, nothing happened.  We managed to stop the car using the gears and got it repaired but it had also had independent front suspension and had broken that as well.  It was quite a journey.  The car was fully loaded and I had my wife and one year old daughter with me.  Eventually, we got to the meeting place and there was no sign of Ray or Dick Katz.  I called them and they were still in Calais and they weren’t allowed through because Dick who was German actually hadn’t got a visa or something.  So, that put an end to that gig.   So, there we were no money and we were in a very tricky situation.  My wife could speak enough Italian to explain things and someone lent us some money to get back.  I was really furious about that.  So, I gave my notice straight away.  The last thing I did with the quartet was the recording for the very first Goon Show – the pilot. The I went to… so, that ended that band for me.  I was with Tito Burns, the I got together with Lauderic and another guitarist and a pianist and formed a quartet. My bass got damaged somehow and I had a cello and so I played that as a bass.  We did odd jobs but didn’t make hardly any money.

How did you first meet Joe Harriott?

Meet Joe?  I joined Tito Burns and one of the first gigs I did with Tito was a concert at St. Pancras Town Hall.  We were the main band and in the interval this other band came on and in it was a saxophonist who was playing terrific stuff in the style of Charlie Parker and we had never heard that before.  They were a band from Jamaica and the name Joe Harriott came up.  I didn’t actually meet him then but the impression he made was very solid indeed.  I was doing things at a club in London with Alan Clare and he was playing in a club and I used to play quite a lot with Alan.  I was actually playing in a club with Alan when this saxophonist, a black guy, came in and sat in with us.  Who was it?  It was Joe, Joe Harriott. I was playing with Alan and Bobby Orr and he joined us and when we had finished he said, ‘I’m thinking of forming my own band. Would you like to join us?  So, that was how it all started and, of course, he asked Bobby as well.

When was that?

About ’58.  Pat Smythe was later.  Joe asked a trumpet player, who was a bebop man.  A funny little fellow.

Going back to that time, the level of everyday racism must have been very open and obvious. People thought it okay to be quite openly racist.

Oh yes, it was very strong.  If you’ve got any kind of decent upbringing you learn how to deal with these sort of things.  Although you feel personally at times hurt, you know what you ought to do and how you ought to deal with things like that.  So, I was able to come through it but I knew very well that it existed and personally there were various incidents.  But, as I said, one has to deal with it and get on with your life.  I wanted to play music and I could only do it here.  It was suggested many times that I should go to America and I said, no way would I go that country under the circumstances that existed.  I would probably get killed or something because I couldn’t put up with what those guys had to put up with.  That was unbelievable what happened to people there.  Certain places you couldn’t go in and other places you had to go through the back door.  That wasn’t for me.

But what about the music scene here?

I can’t say…. the people that I worked with were all okay and fine.  I never had any problems with musicians that I worked with.  Because in the first place I think proper musicians have a certain other feeling towards other good musicians – people who can play their instruments and behave themselves and that’s one thing I could always play my instrument better than a lot of them.  So, they couldn’t put that down to me at all.  So, I got on with the musicians alright.  It was other people who were horrible.  I think things are a bit better but they could be a whole lot better.  So long as one is respected for what one is and one does in life that’s all you can expect.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, though.

I firmly believe that in fact the more we mix together the better the world is going to be instead of isolating ourselves in factions and so forth and I’ve had that belief from the very beginning.  My wife is Viennese and we’ve now been together for 64 years. So, I keep hoping that we prove a point to people that people who are completely different in almost every way can live together in peace.  It is possible and we should all try and do this.  It would make the world a much better place.

What was Joe like as a person?

He was very confident about his playing for a start. He was very sure of himself. In fact, he could be a very difficult person.  He wasn’t so easy to exchange things and views with.  The way he thought about things, he had very strong opinions.  Also, there’s a group called the Rosicrucians – he was involved with them.  I suppose they taught people to stand up for themselves and be forthright but not easy to exchange views with.  If he had a view on something, no matter what you said, that was it for him.  Very dogmatic.  Also, the very odd thing, although we were a group playing together whenever he was announcing a new number he would never say, ‘We are going to play for you…’, he would always say, ‘I am going to play for you…’.  He was rather self-centred.

How did Joe get on with Phil Seamen?

Phil was not terribly reliable because he was under the influence of his habit.  The worst incident that I can remember was we were playing in Hammersmith somewhere and Dave Brubeck was playing on that gig. It was his gig. We were the support band.  Dave was standing in the wings when we were due to start.  So, we go onto the stand but there’s no Phil.  He hadn’t shown up.  So, what do we do we have to start.  So, we’re playing away and suddenly there’s a rush and Phil comes dashing in and on to the drum set and immediately was sick all over the drums.  That to me was the worst experience I had ever had as a musician.  Can you imagine that?  In front of everybody.  I wanted the stage to open up so I could just disappear.  It was horrible, really horrible.

Did the quintet work regularly?

Not as much as we should have.  The talent in the group was tremendous.  It was such a pleasure to play with these guys.

Did Joe use hard drugs at all?

Joe may have smoked some marijuana but no…. He was a heavy smoker because when he wasn’t smoking he was sticking a cigarette on his instrument.  You know how they do.  He always smoked.

Do you recall how Joe first proposed his idea of free form to you?

I couldn’t imagine how this could possibly work.  I had no idea and I remember when I was driving him to a gig in Frankfurt, he put this idea to me and I said I couldn’t see how the bass would work with this and his reply was more or less, ‘You could always play diminished runs.’  I remember thinking, ‘You mean I’m going to have to spend my life playing diminished runs?’ [Laughing]  Once he brought the draft of his first composition like this I began to hear more or less what was required and so did all the others because they were all wonderful musicians. The sum total of our experiences in music gave us the chance and the way to find a way to do it.

What was the experience of playing that way like?

It was exciting.  I mean you were actually the composer at the same time because the ideas came entirely from you being suggested by whatever else was happening in the group.  We were constantly supplying each other with what to play next.  It demanded absolute concentration and ability. People can play their instruments but when they need to do something off the cuff can they just do it?  This is what was demanded by that music. I still listen to it.  It’s still so fresh for me because it is still so different.

How did audiences react?

It varied a lot.  It varied a lot.  It’s possible that it was only musicians, proper musicians who could really appreciate it thoroughly what we were doing.  To the general public who demand constantly a lyrical line or something or must hear a tune, they would be lost.

How about other musicians, how did they react?

When we first played it in the old Ronnie Scott’s musicians would come to the door and stand there with their mouths open [Laughing] and more or less smirking. They didn’t understand it at all. They used the standard approach to things and if you weren’t doing that you weren’t any good. There was an American critic who was very impressed, a Down Beat critic who gave us five stars.

How did Shake Keane come into the group?

I had been playing Sunday gigs with a pianist who was probably the worst pianist in the world.  But he had the best people playing with him and Shake was one of them, so I knew the quality of his playing. So when this other guy, the trumpeter, left I told Joe, ‘You’ve got to get Shake in.’ In fact, he played mostly trumpet at the time but then he got himself this fluegelhorn and he couldn’t find a suitable mouthpiece but I heard him play this thing and I said to him, ‘That’s the instrument you should play.’ He played that like no-one else because he had the most wonderful sound but anyway he persevered and eventually found a mouthpiece he could be comfortable with and, thank goodness, because he played it so wonderfully the sound he made. He was my best friend.

How important was Denis Preston to the quintet? 

All praise to him for having the quintet because no-one else was interested in giving us a chance to record.  It was very fortunate, of course, that he had a black girlfriend and I think that was probably what started his interest in the group.  None of the other people would give us a chance.  Also, he had to my ears the very best recording engineer – Adrian [Kerridge].  He was the only one to give me a decent sound on my instrument.  If any instrument suffered in the studio it was the bass. Very few of them knew what to do. Anyway, Adrian did and it was such a pleasure to hear.  When other people did it, I used to think, ‘What did I do wrong?  Why don’t I sound like I should?’

You were one of the first to use amplification with the bass.

I was the first.  When I was with Stéphane I used it on those broadcasts with Stéphane.

What about Indo-Jazz Fusions?

To me it’s music.  It’s all part of this wonderful world. This business of ‘Oh, I’m strictly a classical musician’ and so on. It’s music. It can be so varied and should be.

Did the group get a lot of work?

Not a lot of work.  The last one was in Ireland.  Joe was so scared of flying. He was absolutely terrified. He got drunk [Laughing] and, so, he couldn’t play properly.

What happened with Joe, then?

1967 was my last record with Joe – Swings High.  After that there was no contact. He just disappeared off the scene.  What a tragedy! I’m sure he was very disappointed but we never really discussed anything.  We were not really friends outside group.  We never met outside the job.

One more question, Coleridge. Can I ask you about the two drummers the quintet used – Bobby Orr and Phil Seamen. How did they differ?

Bobby was a master of time.  He got a beat and he kept that absolutely dead the whole time.  I always knew exactly where the beat was.  It meant a lot to me because then you can phrase things and do things around this beat but when it’s all over the place I don’t enjoy playing with it. They say they are pushing the beat. They describe it as pushing the beat and it gets gradually faster and faster. You can’t relax on that. That’s my feeling and Bobby was absolutely a master at that.  I loved playing with him. Phil was exciting and very talented.  His skill was superb.  On the whole, after Bobby came Phil.

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January CD Reviews – McNair, Harriott, Rivers et al

Sebastiano Meloni, Paul Dunmall, Sebastiano Dessanay, Mark Sanders Pictures of a Quartet Slam CD539***

Paul Dunmall (ts, ss), Sebastiano Meloni (p), Sebastiano Dessanay (b), Mark Sanders (d). Rec. 15th-19th July 2011.

This is a remarkably successful and coherent free jazz/free improvisation set. Dunmall and Sanders will be familiar names to Jazzwise readers,  the Italian bassist Sebastiano Dessanay and pianist Sebastiano Meloni less so.  Although entirely improvised, the music seems to have been chosen later to reflect what feels like a quite unique partnership.  Rather than a portrait of one or two aspects of this quartet in performance, the listener gets to hear a much broader presentation of the range of possibilities it has to offer.  As such, the group is able to move from wild, free-ranging Tayloresque improvisations (“Four Phases” and “Movement No.3”) to reflective, slow-moving, introspective pieces (Nocturne” and “Second Landscape”) without ever losing a sense of itself as a collective entity.  At the heart of this record is the series of duets built around pianist Meloni, “Sketches for Two”.  The overriding impression here is of a truly delicate sense of engagement and respect.  Anyone wishing to begin to understand free jazz and its close to distant cousin would do very well to start here.

Sam Rivers, Dave Holland, Barry Altschul Reunion: Live in New York Pi Recordings PI45****

Sam Rivers (ts, ss, f, p), Dave Holland (b), Barry Altschul (d). Rec. 25.5.2007.

When I think of Sam Rivers – and I do – I don’t think of his great Blue Note records but of this trio.  It featured on Dave Holland’s magnificent Conference of the Birds Holland (with the addition of Anthony Braxton), as well recording The Quest, one of the 70s’ finest albums. This double CD was recorded 4½ years before Rivers’ death and 19 after the trio ceased operations.  In a way, time hangs suspended here.  It could be now or you could be there at Studio Rivbea sometime between 1972-78.  The sheer breadth of music, the undiluted quality of the playing, the almost spooky degree of empathy between the musicians and the sense of warmth, joy and controlled power that this trio could convey – nothing has been lost.  Dave Holland’s two bass solos on CD1 suggests that if he had sold his soul to the devil, he had extracted bloody good terms from Old Nick. Barry Altschul is never less than perfect, a brilliant foil who anticipates, frames and enhances what his colleagues are doing.  As for Rivers, he is righteous on tenor, insidious on soprano, exquisite on flute and remarkably lyrical on piano.  An amazing valediction from a genuinely classic jazz trio.

British Jazz from Dutton-Vocalion

John Dankworth What The Dickens! and Off Duty! Dutton-Vocalion CDSML8491

Here, we have two very different prospects.  Off Duty! is really Dankworth-lite, whilst What The Dickens! is the real thing, one of four fine suites the orchestra recorded in the sixties – I’m counting wife Cleo Laine’s Shakespeare and All That Jazz here as well.  Dankworth’s work often invites admiration in critics first and only pleasure and deeper satisfactions later.  Perhaps to some, he was a victim of his own success.  His facility in creating memorable, admittedly sometimes light-weight tunes and ability to please a wider audience than many of his peers kind of makes him a suspect in some quarters.  He might not have been a genius of the art of jazz but he was certainly a craftsman of the first rank.

The other two albums Dankworth made in this period – Zodiac Variation and $1,000,000 Collection – came out last year also on Dutton-Vocalion (2CDSML8480).  The addition of What The Dickens! now gives the lie to those who would limit his achievements as a composer, bandleader and alto player.

That Dankworth had ambition goes without saying.  He wanted to be both popular and respected critically.  That’s a hard and difficult path to negotiate.  His work always had a tendency towards theatricality – probably one of the reasons he was so successful as a composer for film and television.  His music was often relaxed and gentle on the ear but the listener should never presume that meant it wasn’t beautifully framed and a constant challenge for his musicians.  It’s actually bloody hard making it sound this easy and that’s what Dankworth does he with remarkable skill.

The duet between Ronnie Ross and Bobby Wellins on “Weller Never Did” and the leader’s own alto solo on “Little Nell” are perfect cases in point.  On the first, Wellins provides a lovely counterpoint to Ross’ baritone before the two switch places and Ross does the honours for Wellins.  It’s witty, light-hearted and utterly charming.  A moment later, Dankworth’s alto takes the stage for a warm, romantic, if wry take on Dickens’ unfortunate heroine that finds a sound halfway between Parker and Hodges.  Humour was never far away in whatever Dankworth did and it’s there in Tubby Hayes’ solo on “Demndest Little Fascinator”, which plays with a Viennese waltz complete with harp and which brings out a typically rich and throaty performance from Hayes.  Often, and sometimes confusingly, Dankworth’s musical pictures could be at odds with their subject.  “Dotheboys Hall” in Nicholas Nickleby was a grim, forbidding place of education but here the composer uses five of his tenorists to create an atmosphere of rebellion that would have given its headmaster Wackford Squeers instant cardiac arrest.  And who would dare refuse Oliver Twist seconds (“Please Sir, I Want To Some More”) when asked so poignantly by Leon Calvert’s trumpet?

Such quirky perceptions pervade Dankworth’s oeuvre and it was part of his talent that he was willing to give them their head on so many occasions.  Perhaps this all sounds a little too clever, too calculated.  Maybe so but it never appears that way in the execution.  On “Dodson and Fogg”, the altoist duets with Hayes playing the unctuous clerk to the tenor player’s verbose, untrustworthy solicitor.  It matters not that whether you’ve read the Pickwick Papers or seen Noel Langley’s lovely film depiction from 1952, though knowing the source just a little bit does add something and allows the listener to hear Dankworth for the fine musical caricaturist that he was.  This is gorgeously, warm-hearted optimistic jazz, which coming from a furrow-browed, purveyor of doom like this reviewer must say something.

Off Duty! is not in the same league but, to be fair, it wasn’t intended to be.  Here, Dankworth harks back to an earlier era of jazz, innocent and intended for dancing.  The tunes are in the main standards arranged here by Dankworth, David Lindup and pianist Laurie Holloway, with four originals (one from Holloway, three from Dankworth.  The tunes that come off best are the leader’s own slinky title track and the two Ellington pieces “Sophisticated Lady”  and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. But this has the feel more of easy listening than jazz.  Shame that Dutton-Vocalion didn’t pair What The Dickens! with Laine’s Shakespeare and All That Jazz.  Never mind, those of you with taste and discernment will get your money’s worth from What The Dickens! alone.

Tracks: What The Dickens! Prologue/Weller Never Did/Little Nell/The Infant Phenomenon/Demdest Little Fascinator/Dotheboys Hall/Ghosts/David And The Bloaters/Please Sir, I Want Some More/The Artful Dodger/Waiting For Something To Turn Up/Dodson And Fogg/The Pickwick Club/Sergeant Buzfuz/Finale.

Personnel: Gus Galbraith, Leon Calvert, Kenny Wheeler, Dickie Hawdon (tp), Tony Russell, Eddie Harvey (tb), Ron Snyder or Alf Reece (tba), Johnny Dankworth, Roy East (as, cl), Vic Ash (cl, ts), Art Ellefson (ts, bcl), Alan Branscombe (p, vib, xyl), Kenny Napper or Spike Heatley (b), Johnny Butts (d). Special guests: Jimmy Deuchar (tp), Tony Coe, Tubby Hayes, Peter King, Ronnie Scott, Bobby Wellins, Dick Morrissey (ts), Ronnie Ross (bs), Ronnie Stephenson (d), Roy Webster (perc). Rec. July 29th and 31st, August 7th, and October 4th, 1963.

Off Duty! Ja-Da; Off Duty!; Little Brown Jig; Sophisticated Lady; African Waltz; Bernie’s Tune; Skyliner; Basin Street Blues; To Emma; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Song of India; Holloway House. Rec. May 1969.

Harold McNair Harold McNair/Flute & Nut Dutton-Vocalion CDSML8494

The story of Jamaican saxophonist/flautist Harold McNair is one of the great ‘what-might’ve-beens’ of British jazz.  By all accounts, a charming, well-mannered guy with a beautiful sound on tenor, alto and, in particular, on flute.  As with all very talented musicians, the music just flowed through him.  He did a lot of session work, toured with Donovan – that’s him on the troubadour’s In Concert album from 1968 – and played in Ginger Baker’s Airforce and C.C.S.  As far as his own recordings go, these were few and far between.  Two were released only in the Caribbean.  Another, Affectionate Fink, was recorded for ‘fellow’ Jamaican Chris Blackwell’s Island label in 1965 and featured Alan Branscombe on piano and Ornette Coleman’s then bass and drums of David Izenzon and Charles Moffatt.  That remains to be issued on CD, whilst the excellent Off Centre with the John Cameron Quartet, which appeared on Dutton-Vocalion in 2005 is now sadly deleted.  His last record, The Fence came out in 1970 and is thankfully available on CD from Hux Records.  This makes this reissue by the ever-reliable Dutton-Vocalion and Flute & Nut all the more valuable.

Musicians are no different from the rest of us in some respects.  I guess we all think we have more time.  Sadly, for McNair he didn’t – he died aged 39 of lung cancer in 1971.  Listening to these sides – Harold McNair, in particular – is made all the more sad by the sheer joy and vitality of expression that McNair could bring even to the most unpromising material.

McNair’s association was a long and mostly productive one.  Flute & Nut is too easily dismissed as a collection of mood pieces.  It’s better than that, though some may well find Cameron’s orchestral arrangements somewhat showy and ostentatious.  For myself, they are no more so – less so perhaps –  than say those that Quincy Jones wrote to feature Roland Kirk.  But the point here is McNair’s flute and nothing can detract from that.  With lesser talents the strings on “You Are Too Beautiful” would leave one thinking of Mills & Boon.  McNair cuts through all that and in the end that’s all you can hear, all that matters.  His playing on the uptempo treatment of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” is a simply bravura performance.  “My Romance” is the only non-flute track here and features McNair on alto, its slightly sour-lemon tone and freshness making for a lovely moment of jazz plus strings.  The closer, Cameron’s “Burnt Amber”, ends the record nicely with what is a fine, swinging piece of big band jazz.  Not by any stroke McNair’s best album but his playing belies any shortcomings of the setting time and again.

There are no such reservations about Harold McNair.  This is a gorgeous record.  From the opener, “Mento”, to the closing track, “The Cottage” these guys are having a ball.  The rhythm section contains three stalwarts of British jazz of the period, musicians who graced many bands and sessions with their talents – Le Sage is always great value.  But you listen to this record for McNair.  Check how on the light-hearted Indecision with its gospel chords McNair’s flute combines with Le Sage’s pianos and then leaps off into the heavens.  Donovan’s “Lord of the Reedy River” is even better – Ronnie Scott used much the same arrangement on his Live at Ronnie Scott’s LP from 1969 with Kenny Wheeler taking the lead.  Hear how elegantly McNair exploits the tune’s simple melody.  Each one of these nine tracks contains its own pleasures – the Kirk-like waltz of “The Hipster”, the unbridled swing of “The Cottage”, the warm, muscular sound of McNair’s tenor on “Darn That Dream”, even the almost witty flute on Fain and Webster’s insubstantial show-tune “Secret Love”.  I said at the beginning that McNair was a charming, well-mannered cat – buy this and prepare to be charmed.

Harold McNair: Mento; Indecision; Lord Of The Reedy River; The Hipster; Mini Blues; Secret Love; Darn That Dream; On A Clear Day You Can See Forever; The Cottage.

Personnel: Harold McNair (ts, f), Bill Le Sage (p), Spike Heatley (b), Tony Carr (d). Rec. July 1968.

Flute & Nut: The Umbrella Man; The Night Has a Thousand Eyes; You Are Too Beautiful; Barnes Bridge; Nomadic Joe; Herb Green; My Romance; Burnt Amber.

Personnel: Harold McNair (f, ts), John Cameron (arr), unknown orchestra.  Rec. 1969.

Joe Harriott Quintet Movement/High Spirits Dutton-Vocalion 2CDSML 8486

The acquisition, ownership and handling of a back catalogue of classic British jazz by first Polygram and then Universal is a story of meanness and incompetence.  This has meant that key recordings by the likes of Joe Harriott, Mike Westbrook, John Surman, Stan Tracey, the Don-Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet and quite a few others have either never been issued on CD or been patchily available at best.  Some of this material is now entering or about to enter the public domain.  On the one hand, this means that fans may at last actually get to hear it.  On the other, it also means that these sides are likely to appear in poorly presented packages, often using vinyl copies rather than original masters in the reissue.

Two British companies stand out from the rest in all respects – Beat Goes On and Dutton-Vocalion.  Over the last few years, both labels have ensured the availability of records that tell the rich and varied story of British jazz in the 1960s.  Ideally, one would like to see expensive, Mosaic-like box sets of Westbrook’s Deram albums or Joe Harriott’s Lansdowne releases complete with original sleevenotes and artwork, full and annotated recording details and more.  The market just wouldn’t stand it, of course.  In a way, that makes Dutton-Vocalion and BGO all the more important.

Harriott’s career is beautifully recalled in Alan Robertson’s biography Fire In His Soul (Northway 2012), reviewed elsewhere on All About Jazz.  The Jamaican alto saxophonist recorded and released ten LPs for Denis Preston’s Lansdowne Series between 1960-69.  Of these, three saw him experiment with an abstract approach to jazz that paralleled but was quite different from Ornette Coleman’s work in the USA.  Free Form (1960) was reissued last year as part of the Joe Harriott Story (Properbox 4CD set).  Abstract (1961), his best album, came out on Universal in 1999 but has long since been deleted.  Movement is the third and last in that sequence.  The reasons why Harriott abandoned his experiments are well-documented in Alan Robertson’s biography and on the All About Jazz website.

Movement, however, is perhaps the best representation of a Joe Harriott Quintet gig, mixing as it does straightahead tracks with his free-form work.  British pianist Brian Dee once told me that Harriott’s way of mixing sets in this way did not help his cause leaving audiences puzzled and unsure about how they should respond.  Indeed, one gets intimations of this hearing this record.  And yet, that does not ultimately detract from it.  In fact, it allows the listener to draw their conclusions and more than that see how the experimental stuff is to some degree dependent on the more bop-oriented music.

So, it opens with the easy swing of “Morning Blue” with Harriott’s alto warm, sunny and optimistic and Shake Keane’s flugelhorn light as air.  Beams follows echoing Harriott’s two previous records in several ways.  Firstly, it is immediately apparent that this is very much a group music.  The horns, in particular, seem mutually dependent with Harriott and Keane interlocking and playing off each other.  The music is held in place by Coleridge Goode’s walking bass, with piano and even drums having greater licence within the rhythm section.  Secondly, one couldn’t really describe this music as modal.  Rather it is developed from melodic fragments and motifs.  “Count Twelve” is pure bebop rooted in the blues with some simply lovely flugelhorn from Keane and delightful piano from Pat Smythe.  The relationship between Goode and drummer and Bobby Orr is almost symbiotic, while Harriott’s own solo is wild and free-flowing.

Michael Garrick’s quirky “Face in the Crowd” follows.  Originally, it accompanied Jeremy Robson’s poem of the same name on Poetry & Jazz – Record Two (1967 – Dutton-Vocalion 2CDSML 8416) and on which Harriott played as part of Garrick’s quintet.  It’s a fine, angular performance that sits well with Harriott’s own more abstract writing.  “Revival” is one of the saxophonist’s most Caribbean-inflected tunes and is perhaps the record’s highlight, whilst Garrick’s “Blues on Blues” reveals perfectly how very, very good this group really was.

The album concludes with three tracks, “Spaces”, which was arguably the most abstract piece Harriott ever recorded, the fine, if mainstream bop “Spiritual Blues” with some great bowed bass from Goode and excellent drums from Bobby Orr and the album’s title track.  Movement has an intensity not found in all of Harriott’s free form work.  It’s a stunning group tour de force, again building from comparatively simple melodic materials into something that is dark, brooding and even slightly unsettling.  Of the two record’s in this package, Movement is the one that is absolutely essential.  Were it not for these earlier achievements, High Spirits might come more highly recommended.  It is of a much lighter weight but it does have its share of pleasures.  I doubt Harriott could ever have made a bad record and by other people’s standards, this would be top flight.

The shortcoming of High Spirits lies in the sense that these show tunes, from the musical based on Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, are really fairly average West End/Broadway fare.  “You’d Better Love Me” is a case in point.  It really doesn’t deserve Pat Smythe’s elegantly poised solo.  Smythe did the arrangements here and  he made a more than  adequate fist of the task.  In fact, Smythe has the album’s finest moment in his lovely, limpid performance on “Forever and a Day”.  The band’s playing is lively and authoritative and Shake Keane is on wonderful form throughout but particularly so on “If I Gave You”.  There’s also a certain poignancy to the way Harriott plays throughout the record, almost as if somehow he can compensate for the lack of depth to the original tunes.  In any other context, his solos on “I Know Your Heart”  and “Was She Prettier Than I?” would count as prime Harriott.  Perhaps, I’m being a little ungenerous.  You certainly won’t regret having this record in your collection and if you know anything of Joe Harriott, you will want this pairing for Movement.  Looked at that way and High Spirits is a bonus.

Tracks: Movement: Morning Blue; Beams; Count Twelve; Face in the Crowd; Revival; Blues on Blues; Spaces; Spiritual Blues; Movement.

Personnel: Joe Harriott (as), Shake Keane (tp, flhn), Pat Smythe (p), Coleridge Goode (b), Bobby Orr (d). Rec. 1963.

High Spirits: Home Sweet Heaven; If I Gave You; Go Into Your Trance; You’d Better Love Me; I Know Your Heart; Was She Prettier Than I?; Forever and a Day; Something Tells Me.

Personnel: Joe Harriott (as), Shake Keane (tp, flhn), Pat Smythe (p), Coleridge Goode (b), Bobby Orr (d). Rec. September 1964.

 

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Mike Taylor – The Not So Strange Life and Death of Mike Taylor

Composer-pianist, Mike Taylor, lies buried in a touchingly simple grave in a cemetery in Southend. His body was found on the beach at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex in January 1969. It was assumed that he had committed suicide. He was 30 years old and didn’t leave much of a legacy – a couple of albums now highly prized, a CD of his tunes and songs recorded by the New Jazz Orchestra a few years after his death and one or two tracks written or co-written for Cream in the late-60s. And yet his life and short career remain a source of fascination for jazz fans that belie his lack of success during his life. Continue reading

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Stan Tracey – Age Shall Not Weary

It was early last year in Hampstead.  I was watching and listening to Stan Tracey playing a short solo set at a gig he was doing with poet Michael Horovitz.  I was sitting opposite him and his head and shoulders were framed by the piano’s lid, a study in concentration.  It was one of those moments when what you are hearing and what you see become one total image, iconic in every sense of that word.

I suspect Stan would scoff at the suggestion but I realised then that, now in his eighties, he is not just one of our finest musicians but, also, that he represents so much more than his own place in jazz history.  At 83, you’d forgive him for restricting himself to an occasional, polite recital but this year he has thrown himself into a hectic schedule of work.  There are three albums already in the can and his gig diary is filling up nicely.  The first record is Later Works, a double CD of two suites for his octet, and it will be followed later in the year by a piano trio set and a collection of improvised duets with his son and drummer, Clark.

Later Works features two suites, Amandla written in ’93 for the newly-amalgamated Trades Union, Unison, and Hong Kong Suite commissioned by Lord Chris Patten to mark the handover of the city to China in ’97.  The performance of the latter was held in the governor’s mansion.   “Oh, yeah,” he says laughing.  “It was the last concert in Government House.  I remarked at the time that it was one of the nicest places I’d ever closed.”

I can’t help commenting that Patten always seemed quite a decent bloke for a Tory.  “We all formed that opinion,” Stan replies.  “He came across as a really nice guy.”  So, how did the commission come about?  “I was working in a jazz club in Hong Kong,” he says.  “Somebody from his office invited him down to the club and at the end of the night we were introduced and he suggested to Chris that he should commission me to write a piece for Hong Kong.  He just said, ‘See to it!’  That was It!”  Oh, to have that power to do such good!

The Amandla Suite focuses on Unison’s international links, in particular with the developing countries.  Both suites are quite glorious, celebratory pieces and, as ever, Tracey succeeds in making his octet sound like a full big band.  I ask him how he approaches writing these longer works.  Does he seek to link the different sections or use recurring motifs or chord sequences?  His response is down-to-earth and pragmatic but still informative about his working methods.

“I can’t answer that,” he says after a long pause.  “They just are.  How can I put this?  I’m not academically trained and I’m not a schooled musician, so I can’t talk to you in those terms.  I just bumble along and hope for the best I guess.” Stan laughs and continues.  “I tend to start at point A and keep going until I reach a point in the alphabet I feel it is time to finish the piece.  Sometimes, there’s no repeating of harmonic sequences at all.  Truth to tell, I find that boring.  It’s okay on a gig where you’re just blowing but, if I’m writing, I try not to keep repeating the chord sequence.  It just grows organically.  Also, there’s a matter where it’s a commission and you decide to do five pieces, then you know that each piece has to last so many minutes.  So that comes into it too.”

It reminds me of what Bob Dylan said when someone asked him what his songs were about – “Oh, some are about 10 minutes long, others five or six!”  Stan is not unusual in this respect amongst musicians I’ve talked to – they reflect extensively on the content and form of the thing they are producing but not on the process of its creation.  So, when I ask him which he finds easier – writing for big band or octet, his reply is that it’s the latter, simply because he’s had more experience in that area.

It struck me long ago that those who play with him seem to sound at their very best in his company, as if he brings out something special in them.   Stan’s not exactly dismissive of the suggestion but I can tell he’s not entirely comfortable with it.  “First of all, I don’t know if that’s true,” he says, “and I haven’t really had the chance to make the comparison.  You have to work with somebody to have knowledge of their playing.”  He pauses for a moment, “I really have no comment to make about that.  If they do play better with me (laughing), that’s a real boost for my ego.”

It’s the first time, I’ve spoken with Stan face to face and I’m struck by a gentleness about him.  It’s not modesty exactly that makes him appear reluctant to accept such compliments but more a kind of old world good manners.  It’s very refreshing.  They said about F. Scott Fitzgerald, that while most writers lived for their writing, Fitzgerald wrote for a living.  Tracey has that same quality.

His bands often feature a fine blend of mature and young talent.  It’s a balance of experience and youthful vitality that adds a special dynamic to his music.  Clark has been part of the family firm from his teens.  Guy Barker has been playing with Tracey from a very young age and the same is true of Gerard Presencer.  It is, he says, an aspect of his work that he really enjoys.

“Yes, with the help of my son Clark because I don’t get the opportunity to hear who’s playing amongst the new players and he lets me know who’s playing well.  For instance, he suggested I might ask (trumpeter) Henry Armberg-Jennings to do a gig with me at the Bull’s Head with me.  I have absolute confidence in what Clark suggests.  So, Henry’s playing with me in a couple of months time.  I like working with all players of all ages but it is nice to work with the younger players.”

Bassist Andy Cleyndert is another who’s been with Stan for years.  As well as featuring in the octet and big band, Andy plays all of Stan’s trio and quartet gigs.  In fact listen to him on the forthcoming trio set or the quartet session from 2009, Senior Moment, and you’ll hear how young players can retain that youth and vitality thing and yet underpin that with maturity and experience.  Saxophonist, Simon Allen, who features both in the octet and on Senior Moment, is another – still young musician – who keeps growing in stature in Stan’s company.

Obviously, for any composer, the more they work with particular musicians the more it aids the process of composition and arranging.  Having the right mix of players certainly helps in one sense at least, as Stan points out, “It does help when I’m familiar with what a player does I can feature that player in certain parts of an arrangement because I know that’s what he does well.  So, in that regard, yeah, it does work.”

Readers may already be aware that Stan’s wife and life partner, Jackie, died last summer.  Jackie was, like so many jazz wives, so much more than even that word of a thousand tasks might convey and Jackie had made her own contribution in so many ways to jazz in Britain.  The idea of a duo album – just Stan and Clark – was hers, as Stan explains.  “It was something that Jackie was always pushing for and I’m sorry that she didn’t get the chance to hear us doing it.  That was a big wish of hers that we do that and we finally did.  It’s totally improvised – there was no preparation.  Clark went into his booth I went into mine and we just started playing.”

It was probably one of the most important recordings for Stan, for reasons that should be clear.  He admits that he was nervous.  “I thought I was going to have a paucity of ideas but came the moment I thought ‘Phew!’”, and his shoulders actually relax, as he says this.  “Clark is a tremendous person to work with – the things that come from him that I can relate to and I suppose the other way round.  It came easier than I thought it was going to from my point of view.”

But don’t expect an album of atonal free improvisations.  Stan had, of course, recorded in that style in the seventies with John Surman, Keith Tippett and Mike Osborne – and more recently with Evan Parker.  But, as he tells me, this was more about the creation of instant compositions, he tells me.  “The stuff I did with Keith it was totally atonal.  It was 90% atonal with John and 100% atonal with Mike and I knew that I wasn’t going to be doing that with Clark.  There’s one track that gets a bit atonal but for the most part it’s regular harmonies.”

I ask, which approach he finds easier.  “I find using regular harmonies and composing on the spot easier because that’s the bulk of what I’ve been doing all my life.  The atonal thing, I don’t do all that often, so I do find that more difficult.”  He’s actually slightly dismissive of his own efforts with Surman, Osborne and Tippett.  I’ll just say, his opinion isn’t one I – or anyone I know who’s heard those records – would share.  Hopefully, these duets with Clark will come out soon – or at least as soon as the Traceys have the bread to do so – because the music is a delight.  Jackie would be proud of her guys.

It’s amazing to say it but Tracey’s own playing seems, if anything, to improve with age.  He rejects instantly my suggestion that this, and the impression that he is now more relaxed on stage, might come from the sense that he now has nothing to prove.  “No, no!  Not from that angle,” he says, “I’m too aware of my shortcomings to be that laid-back about it.  I guess it just comes with age.  I am more relaxed with the audience.  After all these years, I would have to be.  I used not to be, I know.”  There was a time when a Tracey gig could be an edgy affair – for the audience, that is.  You kind of felt you had to be on your best behaviour.  But as he says, for all the drugs he once took, his favourite buzz is playing live.

An intensely private man, I’m loath in any way to intrude on his grief.  I do, however, get the impression that Stan is throwing himself into work this year, with the encouragement of Clark and daughter-in-law Sylvia, as a means of honouring everything he and Jackie had worked for over the years.  We honour the dead best by living to the full, after all.  And when the Tracey standard remains so high, what better way of doing just that could there be?

Nonetheless, this year’s work schedule might frighten much younger souls.  Umpteen UK festival gigs are already set up.  The new CD will be launched at the Sage, as part of the Gateshead International Festival on March 26th and is followed by gigs in Bury St. Edmunds (May), Glasgow (June), Swanage and Wigan (both July) and Marsden in October.  Even more intriguing is a gig on April 10th at London’s Jazz Café – let’s hope the club starts making a habit of it.

Then there are some US dates with his trio in June, including the Rochester Festival and, most intriguingly, on 14th June at Lincoln Center in Dizzy’s Club – one of our jazz icons appearing in a room named after one of theirs!  Back in the fifties and sixties, when Stan was still learning the trade that might’ve been considered a case of coals to Newcastle.  These days it’s more a matter of Matthew Chapter 7, Verse 6!

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the April 2010 issue of Jazzwise. Unfortunately, whoever subbed it saw fit to change the last line. I was not best pleased. 

Check out Stan’s new website at www.stantracey.com.

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Graham Collier – Music and Mosaics

Graham Collier has a simple yet profound working philosophy. “Jazz happens in real time – once,” as Graham explains.  “That’s what it should be about.  Even if it’s put on record, it should be a one-take venture.  That’s it.  We did it.  That’s the best time we played it.”  And that’s precisely what he and his band did last autumn at gigs in Birmingham and the London Jazz Festival with Forty Years On, a collection of pieces from four decade career and with The Vonetta Factor, a new commission.  It’s all about spontaneity, making sure improvisation remains at the heart of Jazz performance.

Back in ’68, Graham received the first Arts Council commission by a Jazz composer.  That piece was Workpoints and a concert recording made at the time has finally been released on Cuneiform, along with a performance of Graham’s 1975 sextet live in Belgium.  Graham’s glad it’s out but almost damns it with faint praise.  “The sound is not brilliant,” he admits,  “but it’s a historical document and there’s excellent playing on it.”  Actually, the sound’s remarkably good and of much more than mere historical interest.  Hearing it for the first time is like discovering a missing link not only from Graham’s own musical history but from a golden age of British Jazz.  With players like John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Harry Beckett, Mike Gibbs, John Marshall and an inspired Frank Ricotti on vibes, this twelve-man orchestra is one of the finest bands you could wish for playing some of the smartest music you’ll ever hear.  True the Belgian recording is a bit muddy but this group of Collier stalwarts – Art Themen, Harry Beckett, Ed Speight, Roger Dean and John Webb – are superb and perform beautifully on Graham’s Darius and add splendid takes of Clear Moon and Mackerel Sky, a highlight from last November’s gigs.

Graham’s entire back catalogue has recently been reissued on Discinforme and fans have been treated to a clutch of new releases like the brilliant Winter Oranges with the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra and Bread and Circuses with the Australian ensemble, The Collective.  Of the early albums, Songs for my Father (1970) and Down Another Road (1969) stand comparison with the very best Jazz of the period.  While Workpoints proves Graham’s abilities as a writer for large groups have always been there – after all he studied with the great Herb Pomeroy at Berklee – it’s only more recently that opportunity has revealed just how important a composer for Big Band he really is.

The key for Graham lies in the late fifties’ revolution ushered in by Miles and Ornette, “that opened up the music so much that it enabled us to do many, many more things within a Big Band.”  It’s a point he expands in his influential book, Interaction – Opening Up the Jazz Ensemble and on his web-based project, This is not a Book.  Both seek to show different ways composers can work with a big Jazz group.  As Graham points out, “I argue that the language changed with Miles’ Kind of Blue but the potential of what a Jazz composer can be is rarely being realised.”  These theory projects, he says, “keep me mentally occupied in a different way than writing music does.”

Graham’s ideas have evolved over the years.  In the early eighties he ran a series of workshops with musicians like Django Bates, Iain Ballamy and Eddie Parker, which led to the formation of the seminal Loose Tubes collective.  In the late eighties and nineties, his teaching career at the Royal Academy allowed further scope for reflection and he has now embarked on another book tentatively titled The Jazz Composer, which looks at how the term is used to describe everything from tunes and arrangements for small and big bands to large-scale works.

As he notes, improvisation in Jazz can take several forms.  A musician can take a solo out front.  The whole or part of the band can play with the structure of the piece, which Graham calls structural improvising.  Or there’s the way that the rhythm section constantly adapts and moves the music in new ways, which Graham describes as textural improvising.  Graham’s innovation is to apply these and their dynamic potential in any given situation to the large Jazz group.  It’s not just the performance that changes.  The composition itself is transformed every time it’s played.  It happens in real time – once!

For Graham, “There are too many writers who want to write too much and impress with their techniques.  To be brutally honest, you listen to great orchestrators like Stravinsky and Bartok, most Jazz Composers can’t write that well, they’re trying to do something that’s almost doomed to failure.  They simply cannot create the kinds of textures that Classical people do when they have orchestras with twenty-five different flutes and all kinds of instruments.  For me the path to go down is to say the Jazz small group does this and like the Miles’ group can be very flexible in the way they approach a tune.  They can stretch things out.  The rhythm section drop out occasionally.  So, there’s all that textural flow, that changing flow that the Classical people can’t do because of the nature of their beast.  They’ve got to write it in order to play it.”

The Vonetta Factor illustrates this well.  It was inspired by Tony Williams’ strangely martial drumming on the Miles’ piece Vonetta.  “What it really is, is the unexpectedness of it,” he says.  “It’s almost as if something’s intruding from a parallel universe.  The more I started to write it, the more I realised I’m doing it in all my pieces anyway.  It’s a kind of subversion of the expected.”  He tells a story of one of Gil Evans’ last trips to the UK.  Gil had been commissioned to write a new piece for a festival.  The guy meeting him from the airport asked if he’d finished the piece.  Graham continues, “Gil said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got it in here somewhere.’  And he pulled out this scrap of paper and that was it.  Yet, they made a magnificent concert out of it.  That is what it should be about. Putting a scrap of paper out and seeing what people do with it.”

Graham left the Royal Academy after ten years and moved to Spain with his partner, writer John Gill but he’s quick to point out that this is no retirement, semi- or permanent.  “In some ways I’m actually busier than I ever have been,” he tells me.  “I was at the Academy which was pretty much a full time job.  I was trying to look after my own music and travelling and all that sort of stuff and it was all getting on top of me.  So, John and I decided it would be nice to get out and live somewhere cheaper.  The two things I’m most involved with is promoting my own music and writing new music when I can like for this gig or with the NDR Big Band which I did last December.  Also I’ve got other work lined up in Singapore and Sardinia and Norway and there’s talk of going out to Australia soon.  So, I’m still looking for that sort of work.”

And with hopes that the London Jazz Festival gig may be released later in the year, if he can do a deal with the BBC, Graham’s presence on the scene is once again highly visible.  And that’s good for him and it’s good for Jazz.

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the July/August issue of Jazz UK. Since it was written, BGO Records have released much of Graham’s back catalogue in series of beasutifully produced editions with fine sleeve notes from Dr. Alyn Shipton. I include below a review of ‘Deep Dark Blue Centre/Portraits/Alternate Mosaics’. The London concert was in fact later released under the wonderful title, ‘Directing 14 Jackson Pollocks’. These are records no self-respecting fan should be without. To say that Graham’s death is great loss to the music is rather like saying that his hero Duke Ellington was a jazz musician.

Graham Collier Deep Dark Blue Centre/Portraits/The Alternate Mosaics Beat Goes On BGO CD822****

Deep Dark Blue Centre – Graham Collier (b, comp), Harry Beckett, Kenny Wheeler (t, flhn), Mike Gibbs (tb), Dave Aaron (as, f), Karl Jenkins (bs, ob), Phil Lee (g), John Marshall (d).  Rec. 24.1.67.

Portraits – Graham Collier (b, comp), Dick Pearce (flhn), Pete Hurt (as), Ed Speight (g), Geoff Castle (p), John Webb (d).  Rec. 16/17.11.72.

Alternate Mosaics – Graham Collier (b, comp), Harry Beckett (t, flhn), Bob Sydor (as, ts), Alan Wakeman (ts, ss), Geoff Castle (p), John Webb (d).  Rec. 12.12.70.

I had always considered Deep Dark Blue Centre the weakest of Collier’s early records.  My own mono vinyl copy always seemed rather flat and lacklustre.  There are many, many virtues contained in this excellent release but none more virtuous than this final stereo release of that early Deram album.  Apparently, Collier himself hadn’t been aware that it had ever been put out in a stereo version but this reissue has all the sharpness and brightness that now allows these tracks to shine forth in all their glory.  A crack band – Wheeler and Beckett alternate and do not appear together, by the way – and some beautiful compositions in this new stereo incarnation reveal this to be a transitional work but a very fine one indeed.

This second version of Mosaics, taken from the second set but same evening as the original Phillips release, is markedly different from the original.  The external structure is still there but, internally, it’s like one of those TV makeover programmes has moved in.  If anything, Collier’s own playing is stronger on this version and makes one regret his decision to give up the instrument and concentrate solely on composition.  Makes for a lot less to carry, I guess.  Harry Beckett is outstanding once again and the tension he builds during the final section is remarkable and barely dispelled in the closing coda with the saxophones of Wakeman and Sydor joining in.  Wakeman is an undersung talent caught here in his most Coltrane-influenced phase and his contributions are supremely telling, while Geoff Castle’s limpid piano on the second slower section of the piece is quite, quite beautiful.  For anyone wishing to understand Collier’s approach to composition both versions of Mosaics are essential.

With Portraits, Collier was breaking in a new band with new arrivals Pete Hurt on saxes, Dick Pearce on fluegelhorn and Ed Speight on guitar.  Perhaps that was the reason for Collier’s return to more formal compositional structures on the long two-part suite And Now For Something Completely Different and Portraits 1, a lovely ballad feature for newcomer Pearce.  The playing is superb with Pearce proving a worthy replacement for Harry Beckett and Pete Hurt stepping neatly into Alan Wakeman’s shoes.  If anything, however, it’s Ed Speight who proves the most remarkable find, beginning here what has proved a long and successful association with Collier’s music.  His opening to the modal, Spanish-tinged second part of And Now For….is quite special, as is the way he supports the other players through their shared debut.   All in all, another essential jazz purchase from BGO.

Duncan Heining

Graham Collier Obituary

Composer, bassist and bandleader Graham Collier died on Saturday 10th, September 2011 following a stroke and heart attack.  It was quick, relatively painless but unexpected.  We all felt sure Graham had too much sparkle, too much music in him to go so soon.

Graham was the first British graduate from Berklee School of music and, on returning to Britain in the mid-sixties, formed his own band.  The records he made during those years (recently reissued by BGO), reveal a precocious talent able to fuse a British pastoral compositional sensibility with something far more rambunctiously funky that stemmed from his admiration for Mingus.  The first two of these BGO sets are indispensable, while the third is perhaps merely necessary.

In 1968, Graham was the first jazz composer to receive an Arts Council grant.  It took 37 years for Workpoints, the wonderful and forward-thinking music that resulted, to make its appearance on the US Cuneiform label.  Hoarded Dreams, another big band set, was even better.  That took a mere 24 years to see the light of day.  Yet both albums sat perfectly with the series of large ensemble albums that Graham released in the late nineties and early noughties, with Bread And Circuses from 2003 perhaps the finest of these.  Yet it is fitting somehow that Graham’s masterpiece, Directing 14 Jackson Pollocks, would be the last record he would issue during his life.  Its music brims with vitality, good humour and humanity.

Graham gave gladly of his music and of his time.  He was there early in the life of NYJO, was instrumental in the formation of Loose Tubes and in 1986 launched the jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music.  As pianist Peter James, an RAM student, told me – “Graham’s open ethos created an invaluable environment for students to develop their own musical voices.”  This too is a mark of the man.  But most of us will hold on to his music – by any standards a most remarkable epitaph.

Our thoughts and condolences go to writer John Gill, Graham’s partner of 35 years.

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John Mayer: Indo-Jazz Fusioneer

John Mayer leans forward.  It’s really important to him that I understand.  “All I can tell you is, if it wasn’t for Joe Harriott, all these people wouldn’t get a look in,”  he explains.  “He and me, we did the hard graft.  We were kicked and booted.”  He makes me turn off the tape-recorder to talk about one musician in particular he feels has not given saxophonist, the late Joe Harriott his due.  In John’s view, Harriott was the man who made it possible for a whole new generation of Black musicians to build successful careers in Jazz.

Back in the Sixties, John Mayer secured a place in the affections of British Jazz fans with his pioneering work with Joe Harriott in their band Indo-Jazz Fusions. Now, a quarter century later, John has reformed the group with a bunch of talented young musicians and is winning over a whole new audience for his music. Jazz UK caught up with John to talk about the past, present and future of Indo-Jazz.

John came to Britain from India in the early Fifties. He’d won the prestigious Bombay Madrigal Singers competition for his violin playing and the prize was a scholarship at the Royal Academy. He’d studied with Mehli Mehta (father of the conductor, Zubin Mehta) but always wanted to be a composer. Mehta said to him, “Who’s ever heard of an Indian composer” and told him to use his ‘fiddle playing’ to get out of India to somewhere that his dream might become a more realistic possibility.

Things went well for the first year but then the money ran out and he had to leave the academy. Fortunately, he knew the leader of the LSO and his friend got him an audition. John landed the position of first violin but never did complete his degree. Writing still consumed him and even then he had this idea of fusing the musical techniques of India and the West.

He wrote pieces for two of the most famous Classical clarinettists of the day, Jack Bramwell and John McCaw. Of more significance, however, was the support of the composer/conductor Malcolm Arnold, who provided an introduction to Yehudi Menuhin. Menuhin performed but sadly never recorded John’s unaccompanied Violin Sonata but the patronage certainly helped. Adrian Boult, then conductor of the LSO, included John’s RAGA JAI JAVANTI in the orchestra’s programme and that dream he’d nursed since childhood was beginning to blossom.

By the early Sixties, John was still working as a violinist and writing. He’d been chasing producer Dennis Preston for some time to record some of his music but with little success. Finally, a letter came. Preston was doing a record for Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun and they needed a three minute track to complete the album. The session featured Humphrey Littleton, Don Lusher and Kenny Baker amongst others and Preston needed a piece scored for trombones, flutes, trumpet and percussion. Asked if he had anything suitable, John told a white lie. “I sat up all night and wrote this piece NINE FOR BACON. I got £20, which was a hell of a lot of money in those days.”

Some time passed and John got a letter saying Preston wanted to see him. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, they want their money back!’” But Ertegun had liked the track and he and Preston were now suggesting a collaboration between John and Jamaican saxophonist, Joe Harriott. “I’d been telling him all the time, I wanted to make a fusion of Indian and Western techniques but Denis Preston had always dismissed it. Now he was saying, ‘We have had this idea.’ I said, ‘What a marvellous idea!’”

With no knowledge of Jazz, John was forced to learn as much as he could about the music before the project commenced. While Indian music has its own improvising tradition, it is as John describes it “a disciplined improvisation”. Musicians improvise on scales or ragas but the improvisation must begin and end on the first note of the scale. There is also no harmony or counterpoint in Indian music and this added to the challenge of bringing together these radically different traditions. John solved the problem by scoring everything and then providing the Jazz musicians in the band with the notes on which they would build their solos.

The group gave its first public performance at the Chichester Festival in 1965 and were an instant success. I asked John, why he thinks this unique fusion struck such a chord with audiences. “I think God smiled on us.” He laughs and then acknowledges the more or at least equally likely reason. “Forgive me if I sound boastful but this was the first attempt to bring these two musics together in a coherent manner.” It’s clear that the Sixties had ushered in a greater openness and the Beatles and others had helped to make a younger generation aware of the musics of the East. That combined with the uniqueness of this musical project is perhaps explanation enough.

But for all the public success, the racism that and prejudice that John had met since his arrival had not gone away. Imagine being feted by the great and the good at some provincial festival but then being turned away from digs because of the colour of your skin. John can still remember the hurt and recall the cruel and stupid comments of those years. It’s perhaps for this reason it upsets him he feels that young Black musicians don’t seem to acknowledge the efforts that Joe and he and others made to create the opportunities that the younger generation have today.

I ask him about Joe Harriott. I was fortunate to see him once before he died and have heard stories that he wasn’t always the easiest of people. John tells a different story. “He was a marvellous saxophonist and a marvellous character. People say he was difficult but I didn’t find that at all. It might have helped that there was no competition. I was a composer and I wasn’t trying to show what a fine fiddle player I was. And I always gave full credit to him for the ban.”

In fact John is full of praise for the whole group – for bassist Coleridge Goode, the great pianist Pat Smythe, his close friend Kenny Wheeler and drummer Alan Ganley. As John puts it, It was these people like Joe, Pat and Kenny who really paved the way for young players today.”

But there was always a certain sadness about Joe Harriott and John describes how he would go and visit the saxophonist and find him staring into the fire and smoking a cigarette. “I’d ask him what he was doing and he’d go out and gamble. He had nothing else to do. He was a lonely man. Everybody else was getting a lot of work and here was this great saxophonist not getting the amount of work was due to him.”

Joe’s death in 1973 from a combination of Cancer, TB and Pneumonia still hangs heavy for John and he recalls returning from India to a message that Joe was very ill. He rang the hospital and was told to phone the morning and find out when he could visit his friend. He got a call at 7.30 from the matron to tell him Joe had died.

“I tried to keep it going for a time but it didn’t work. Joe was connected with me. I remember at his funeral, I played the SARABANDE and I told my wife I can’t do this anymore. I had no heart to start up again.”

From 1973 until the mid-nineties, John was away from Jazz. He worked as a violinist and wrote a flute concerto for James Galway and music for cellist, Rohan de Saram. In 1990, John was pleased and surprised to be offered the post of Composer in Residence at the Birmingham Conservatoire. He took the job but only on condition he didn’t have to examine. John says, he just couldn’t bring himself to fail anyone.

It was in this period that he was persuaded to reform IJF by Robin Broadbank of Nimbus Records. John realised he had some wonderful players amongst his students and took up Broadbank’s offer. After two indifferently recorded CD’s with the Classical label, Nimbus, John has found a home with Trevor Taylor’s Future Music Records. Last year the group released the beautifully played and recorded Inja and this July sees the release of Shiva Nataraj (King of Dance), which is if anything even more remarkable.

I ask him, what he sees as the differences between the two groups. John acknowledges the whole issue of ‘names’ – Joe and Pat have a near legendary status and Kenny Wheeler is simply a star musician. But for John, in many ways, the new IJF is an advance on the original. While the originals broke new ground, the musicians knew little of each others musical traditions. In this group, altoist Carlos Lopez Real and drummer Andrew Bratt bring a knowledge of Indian music and instruments to the band. Then there’s John’s son Jonathan, a master sitar player and composer in his own right, and the brilliant tabla player, Harjinda Matharu.

“Joe was a stalwart Jazz musician who played in his own Jazz tradition. He’d say, ‘I don’t know anything about Indian music. I just play what you write.’ Like a tree you couldn’t budge him. Now with Carlos, he plays tampura and composes and Andrew not only plays drums but tabla and ghatam as well. So, the world has become smaller. Young people today not only know their own music but Indian as well.”

The new band has re-recorded some of the old compositions but John is also writing new material. When I ask whether the re-recordings suggest he was unhappy with the originals, his answer is swift and to the point. “No, I wanted to show these young people how their playing is different.” The new album features a recording of the first piece John wrote for Indo-Jazz Fusions, “Overture”. For John, the differences between the two recordings separated by 36 years show how things have changed.

And he’s right. In many ways, the new group integrates the two traditions to a greater and more powerful extent. It also allows the compositions centre stage, which is where they belong. Things have changed but in another way this is timeless music. And it isn’t a competition. We are lucky. We still have the original recordings and now we have the new group. We don’t have to choose. We can have both.

Duncan Heining

This piece appeared originally in amended form in Jazz UK in its July-August 2011 issue.

 

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Jamie Cullum – Pointlessly Nostalgic?

When it comes to Jazz singers, Candid Records’ boss, Alan Bates can pick them. Claire Teal and Joe Lee Williams have followed Stacy Kent’s success and now here’s Jamie Cullum. A twenty-two year old pianist-singer with the confidence of a scene-hardened veteran? ‘Sinatra in sneakers’? The old Jazzer in me is torn between disbelief and a growing sense he may just be the real thing.

Last month at the 606, I’d been struck with the way his performance mixed the self-assured and the self-effacing.  His parents sat at the best table in the house, lighting up the stand with their smiles.  I talked to his dad after the show.  ‘What do you think his chances are?’ he asked me.  I said, ‘He’s good, maybe very good.  Yeah, I think he’ll make it.’  Parental pride mixed with parental concern.

Tonight it’s the usual Thursday session at the Café de Paris, the Kitsch Lounge Riot, and Candid are using the venue to launch Jamie’s first album, Pointless Nostalgic.  Family, friends and music business types mix with the club’s usual punters.  Here reserving a balcony table requires a minimum spend of £500.  With the cheapest bottle of wine costing £75, no-one’s going home wasted.  Old friends and supporters wander the room looking lost.  It’s one of those places with velvet ropes that provide work for jobless East European border guards and where everything requires a tip.  Where Orson Welles once danced with the fated talent of Vivienne Leigh, fading ‘celebs’ now karaoke into the night.  If Cullum’s the real deal, it will show itself in this unreal setting.

We’re sitting in the VIP lounge about to start.  Before Candid’s press guy leaves us, Jamie checks his parents will get a good table near the stage.  The PR reassures him.  ‘And my uncle and aunt,’ says Jamie.  He’s told not to worry, relaxes and turns his attention to the interview.

Jamie was brought up in Wiltshire and family is clearly important to him.  He credits older brother Ben, a session musician and composer, as a major influence.  In fact, the CD’s title track is a Cullum brothers’ production.  He tells me the story.  “We’ve written lots of things together but Pointless Nostalgic was a tune Ben never quite finished.  When I was doing this record I remembered it.  So, we worked on it and then I took it away and came up with the song as it is now.”  I ask him what the title means.  Jamie laughs.  “It kind of defines my brother.  He’s always looking back and saying it was great when we used to do this. The song’s a way of working through that and saying you can’t live in the past.  But it also ties in nicely with how some of my peers see what I’m doing.  Like these old standards – am I pointlessly rehashing all these nostalgic tunes?”

I ask him when he discovered Jazz.  Big brother again proves to be the influence.  “I was in my mid-teens and quite fed up with the Pop Music scene at the time,” he says and I’m reminded of the learning-curve he’s crossed in a mere eight years.  “Ben was becoming a really good musician and he started sifting through mum and dad’s record collection.  He pulled out a whole bunch of stuff and as he started listening, I did too because I did everything he did.  He started playing more piano.  So, I started playing more piano and soon I wanted to learn Boogie-Woogie and that kind of stuff.  These Jazz musicians seemed so cool.  No-one else was into it at school.  So, it felt like my thing and I became really heavily involved in it.  I really wanted to learn how to play it properly.”

His set mixes standards with songs by Norah Jones, James Taylor, Radiohead and originals, drawing in all his influences.  He started out playing piano, checking for the usual suspects – Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Errol Garner and then Monk.  (His new album features a nice take on Well You Needn’t.)  But he also picked up on Harry Connick Jr. and began listening to singers.

He’s already got gigs at the Jazz Café and Salena Jones’ place behind him, as well as working with a lot of older musicians around the West Country, quite a few of whom are here tonight to support him.  While studying Film at Reading University, he found himself working four or five nights a week.  By now singing was as important as the piano.  “I’d cottoned on that’s what people really wanted and by then I was really getting into it, listening to other pianist-singers like Nat Cole, Andy Bey and even Diana Krall.”

Jamie’s also worked with Rock and Hip Hop bands as well.  I asked him about his parallel career with Rock group Taxi.  With support slots touring with Toploader and with Paul Weller in Hyde Park this year, they headline later this month at the Marquee.  “That’s the one where everyone’s coming to watch us,” he says, “all the important people.”  Jamie plays Hammond organ, Moog and Wurlitzer in the group and describes their music as, “old-fashioned Rock with big choruses and lots of leaping about.”  They’re holding out for a deal with a major label and as he puts it, “it’s an interesting time for that band.” 

So, what happens if Taxi takes off?  At present, he’s confident he can do both without compromising either but I press the point.  “Obviously, my heart lies here but I would want to say that working in Taxi or in any of the Rock or Hip Hop bands I’ve played with, it all feeds into the performances I give as a Jazz musician.  And that doesn’t please some people because they’re hearing me sing mainstream tunes.  When we do It Ain’t Necessarily So with a funky beat, it takes them by surprise.  I’m just trying to sum up my musical influences into one entity.”

So, is his affection for songs like I Can’t Get Started and Devil May Care just pointless nostalgia?   It’s clear that his love of the Great American Songbook comes from hearing people like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick Jr. and Kurt Elling  “They all sing those songs and that’s where I fell in love with them.  They’re fantastic songs, as you soon realise if you spend twenty minutes listening to one of their tapes.”  For him, it’s their timeless quality that allows for constant reinterpretation and in his set Sinatra gets to dance with Norah Jones.  If some older Jazz fans don’t get it, there’s many others new to Jazz that do and  plenty of us forty-somethings who dig what he’s doing.

I ask about the obvious Harry Connick comparison?  He accepts they share some vocal characteristics but his reply is sharp.  “I think he’s interested in other things than being a Jazz singer but I can’t handle any criticisms against him because even when he got really big he was still doing very challenging records.  Not enough people realise what a creative arranger and great piano player he is.”  So, he doesn’t mind the comparison?  “Absolutely not.  He’s great.”

He makes it clear the Diana Krall records he prefers are those early albums, where “she sounds like directly out of the Nat Cole school of singing trio.”  Then he qualifies his comment diplomatically.  “It’s unfair of me to suggest her new albums aren’t as good because Sinatra and all those great singers have done those kind of things.  But in a way I feel the same about the way her career’s gone that I feel about how Nat Cole’s went.  Much as I love their singing, I always go back to the early records.”

While studying at Reading, he got to know the musicians in the Pendulum Big Band, who rehearse at the University and his trio features Pendulum’s bassist, Geoff Gascoyne, alongside Sebastiaan de Krom on drums.  With players like Dave O’Higgins, Matt Wates and Ben Castle also on the album, Jamie’s keeping pretty heavy company.  He credits Claire Teal as a real source of support and it was she who introduced him to Candid, by taking his self-funded CD to the label.  “She’s also told me how to handle interviews.” He grins at me as he says this.

Is it too soon to ask what comes next?  “No, not at all,” he replies.  “I want to make another record and make it better.  I’m pleased with this one because it’s the best I could do right now but in ten years time I hope I can make a really great record.  I’m working with some of the best Jazz musicians in the country.  In some ways I don’t deserve to be.  And I want to learn how to read music properly.  That’s my next ambition.  I just want to be a great musician.”

Somehow the would-be glitz of the venue is forgotten for the hour the trio are on stage.  The noise of chattering punters even reduces, as he plays and sings.  As he comes back for the encore, the suit’s been replaced by his more usual Sinatra Rat-Pack American Football shirt.  He knows he’s home and dry and can relax.  As I said to his dad, he’s good enough to make it and real enough to deserve it.

Duncan Heining

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the November/December 2002 issue of Jazz UK. It was the second grown-up article to appear on Jamie. It might surprise some people but I still think Jamie is ‘real enough to deserve it.’ He’s a nice guy and, though much of his recent output passes me by, I’m confident that won’t always be the case. 

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